Walking on cotton in Pamukkale

Pamukkale had been in my bucket list for many years.  It’s taken us a while to visit because unlike other Turkish destinations in our list (i.e. Istanbul, Cappadocia), planning a trip to Pamukkale had been a bit more on the challenging side.  Its location, for example, is not as convenient as Istanbul which gets direct flights from most major airports in Europe.  And unlike Cappadocia which is open to tourism all year, Pamukkale is best visited when it’s not cold and damp— limiting the ideal travel season to the warmer and therefore pricier months of the travel calendar.

But alas this year, the stars aligned: We found great Amsterdam>Istanbul>Denizli return fares via Turkish Airlines on the first week of May, with temperatures soaring to 30ºC (86ºF).

DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT 6AM

Leaving Amsterdam at midnight, we arrived at Denizli Airport at 6AM where a hotel-arranged airport shuttle was waiting for us.  We arrived at Melrose House in time for breakfast, and we decided to have a quick nap to make sure we had energy for the hike up the travertines.  It was well past 1PM when we stepped out of the hotel.  Since my goal for the day was to take sunset photographs, we made sure to do a quick stop at a small kebab house so we would not go hungry until sundown.

ANXIETY BEFORE THE CLIMB

Even before reaching the ticket kiosk for the travertines, we could already see the bright white terraces shimmering under the scorching Turkish sun.  I admit I had a knot in my stomach as we paid for our tickets (25 TL) to access the travertines and Hieropolis at the top.  I was anxious about all the “warnings” I read when I was planning the trip; travel forums cautioned: You’ll climb 1km barefoot.  The rocks are sharp.  The rocks are slippery.  The crowds are thick.  You may slip.  You may fall.  You will likely slip and fall!

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The bright white travertines visible from the road

WALKING ON CLOUDS

Ever the neurotic, I was preparing myself for the most difficult climb of my life.  But the moment I took my shoes off, walked a few paces further into the travertines, felt the cool rock under my feet, and got my first look at the cotton-like formations that surrounded me, all my anxiety vanished. Suddenly I was five years old and walking on a magical kingdom in the clouds.

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Living up to its name: Pamukkale translates to “cotton castle” in Turkish

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Like a kid in a magical cloud kingdom

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Bright white landscape as far as the eyes can see

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The cotton-like formations seen upclose

It was hard to miss the line of ants climbing up the bright white landscape—bus loads of tourists were making their way up the hill.  Slowly.  Taking selfies at every half step. Material for a traveler’s nightmares. But between the beautiful cotton-like walls, the shimmering rocks, the warm water on your feet, the soft squishy white ‘mud’ between your toes, and the cobalt blue sky, it was hard to be bothered much less be annoyed.

Joining the throngs of visitors, we walked up the hill in awe of the alien landscape around us. We soon realized that there’s truth in the warnings. Yes, some parts are rougher on your feet—but nothing that can cut you if you’re careful.  It’s also true that some parts can be slippery—usually the red ones covered in algae or small puddles of white mud—but as long as you’re paying attention at where you’re walking, you’ll be perfectly fine.

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Look down: The entire landscape was shaped by flowing water and its mineral deposits

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Climbing up a bright white hill

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Visitors look like ants in comparison to the scale of the travertines

THE POOLS OF PAMUKKALE

As we made our way further up, we reached the legendary pools of Pamukkale open for swimming to all visitors. It surprised me that there was barely anyone swimming that day. My guess is that the daytrippers are hesitant to get wet and be uncomfortable on the long bus ride home. Or they probably worry about the limited time they have to see everything before they need to leave.  In my opinion, although Pamukkale can easily be a day trip from Izmir or Kusadasi, there truly is value in staying a night or two and having the time and the option to slow down in one of the most beautiful and most unique landscapes in our planet.

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The legendary travertine pools

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White walls, turquoise water, beautiful views of the town below

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Travertines closed to the public for conservation

ENDING WITH THE SUNSET

We went directly to the ruins of Hieropolis when we reached the top until it was time to catch the sunset.  After finding the perfect spot on the eastern boardwalk overlooking the travertines, my husband and I sat down and watched the sun cast all sorts of colours in the sky and the water reflecting it.  By this time, the daytrippers had gone and the entire hill is hushed.  It was the perfect end to our first day in Pamukkale.

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Golden hour over the travertines

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Slowing down with sundown

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Colours in the sky and reflected on the still pools

DAY 2: SWIMMING AND MORE SWIMMING

For Day 2, we had one thing in our agenda: Swim.  With the sun pounding down at us at 30ºC, we spent the morning swimming and mudding in the travertine pools.  It’s not comparable to being covered in black mud in the Dead Sea, but there’s something pretty special about holding bright, shimmering white ‘mud’ in your hands and feeling its indescribable softness between your toes.

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No escaping the bright sunlight

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Swimming in Pamukkale – checked off the bucketlist!

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White, mineral-rich mud of Pamukkale

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PROTECTING PAMUKKALE

Before long, the daytrippers arrived and we took our cue to leave.  We headed to Cleopatra’s Pool at the top of the hill  to continue swimming.  As we walked up, I couldn’t help but notice how many “pools” were sitting dry without water.  I read online that the pools are kept dry either for maintenance or for conservation. I imagined how it was decades ago when, people claim, visitors had access to all areas of the travertines and pools were much more abundant.  I do not doubt that it was probably more beautiful, more magical.   But apparently, this same ‘misuse’ by humans led to the discolouration and destruction of the travertines.  The Turkish government is working hard to reclaim the natural beauty of the landscape and my fingers are crossed that the money coming from the busloads of tourists visiting Pamukkale will go to the restoration and protection of this natural wonder.  If all goes as planned, more people will get to take quick dips in the pools and check Pamukkale off their own bucket lists.

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